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Alexander Hamilton Frey

December 26, 2023

Known to his students as “Mr. Civil Rights,” Frey helped found the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1955.

Alexander Hamilton Frey was an expert on business associations and labor law who taught at the Law School at Penn from 1950 to 1968.

Known to his students as “Mr. Civil Rights,” Frey helped found the Pennsylvania branch of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in 1955. He was elected to serve as the first president of the organization and served as a member of the board of directors of the national ACLU.

Frey vigorously opposed the use of loyalty oaths during the McCarthy era and publicly defended teachers targeted by investigations aimed at rooting out communism in the school system. In 1947, he was one of 87 prominent liberals and progressives who signed a statement emphasizing that it was “unreasonable and against the public welfare to bring accusations against an American citizen either because he evidences interest in the USSR and a measure of sympathy with some of the things going on there or is critical of certain practices and attitudes in that country.”

According to his former colleague Dean F. Hodge O’Neal of Duke Law School, Frey was “possessed of incisive analytical powers.” He “devoted his vast talents to pioneering scholarship and early assumed the role of innovator, constantly searching for new approaches to law study, striving for new insights, digging ever deeper to discover new meanings in legal materials.”

Frey transformed the way the law of business associations was taught. He considered it important to develop the economic and social background of the problems being litigated.

“The grave danger in the study of the law of corporations exclusively through the medium of cases,” he said, “is that the student fails to glimpse the corporate scene pragmatically.” To remedy this deficiency, Frey assembled his own collections of teaching materials, which he went on to publish as casebooks that were widely used and admired.

O’Neal recalled that Frey’s scholarship was characterized by “an attention to differences between what courts and other officials say they are doing and what they actually do, and probing for the real reasons underlying decisions of courts and other officials.”

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